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Cambria defense: AG agents illegally raided Pigeon’s home

G. Steven Pigeon is fighting back.

The Buffalo political operative, indicted by a special grand jury on nine counts of bribery and extortion, is answering the charges with a 1½-inch-thick sheaf of pre-trial motions filed by his defense attorneys this week in State Supreme Court.

He argues the case against him should be dismissed for several legal reasons, saying evidence was illegally collected in a 2015 raid on his home and questioning Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s authority to prosecute the case. The defense papers also say that the state has failed to prove any quid pro quo benefiting a former State Supreme Court justice ensnared in the investigation.

After weeks of investigation and preliminary motions connected to the probe, defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. essentially argues the state has no case against his client. While his arguments hinge on several complex legal principles, his most basic premise may rest with the claim that the swarm of agents who descended on Pigeon’s waterfront condo in May 2015 acted improperly because of a deficient search warrant.

“The defense maintains that the warrant authorizing the search of Mr. Pigeon’s residence, as well as any of his electronic devices, was overly broad,” Cambria wrote.

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The original document that Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka signed the afternoon prior to the raid was modified by hand to change the location of Pigeon’s Admiral’s Walk residence from the seventh to 10th floor, Cambria said.

“Simply, the warrant’s description of the ‘premises’ is insufficiently particular as to describe the place to be searched,” Cambria argued.

“Equally problematic,” according to Cambria, was the search of Pigeon’s cellphone without specific authorization.

Any information from such a search obtained without “specific, valid warrant authority,” must be suppressed, Cambria said.

In its response to Cambria’s charges, the Attorney General’s Office said “no warrantless searches” were conducted.

But Pigeon mounts other defenses too, questioning why Schneiderman got involved in the first place. His attorneys ask that Schneiderman – represented in Buffalo by Assistant Attorneys General Diane M. LaVallee and Susan H. Sadinsky – must disclose the legal authority by which his office launched the investigation.

“The documents establishing the attorney general’s jurisdiction (or, as Mr. Pigeon suspects, the lack thereof) must be disclosed to Mr. Pigeon because he should not be forced to defend himself against charges for which the prosecution has identified no authority to prosecute,” he said.

Schneiderman’s investigation culminated on June 30 when the special grand jury he convened in Buffalo returned the nine-count indictment against Pigeon. It also indicted former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek on related bribery charges, causing the Hamburg resident to resign after more than 20 years on the bench.

Michalek is expected to cooperate with the attorney general in the prosecution of Pigeon.

Schneiderman’s complaint alleged that as part of Pigeon’s dealings with Michalek, the political operative asked the judge to “get his guy” to act as receiver in a foreclosure case. Sadinsky told the court in June that Pigeon attempted to persuade the receiver to fire the property’s managers and replace them with “cronies.”

She also alleged that Pigeon extorted money from the receiver in retaliation when he refused to hire the cronies.

Sadinsky said the money was listed as consulting services that never were performed. The charge alleges that Pigeon extorted $5,000.

But now Cambria suggests the state has launched a flimsy case against his client based on the premise that “quid pro quos” stemmed from the relationship between Pigeon and Michalek. In his June 30 news conference in Buffalo, Schneiderman suggested a “mutually beneficial scheme between these two men” that went on for at least four years.

Documents filed in the case also allege that Michalek and Pigeon were communicating as the judge was hearing a case involving a company represented by Pigeon’s then-law firm. During that time, court documents allege, Michalek:

•  Kept Pigeon apprised of the status of the lawsuits.

•  Engaged in ex parte communications with Pigeon about them.

•  Sought Pigeon’s advice and input on various issues that arose when the cases came up on his calendar.

•  Provided Pigeon with advice as to how the cases should be handled.

•  Made favorable rulings in certain situations to protect the interests of Pigeon, his clients and his business associates.

Prosecutors also allege that Pigeon helped Michalek secure Buffalo Sabres tickets, helped a relative get a job, and promised to help him obtain an appointment to a vacancy on the Appellate division of State Supreme Court.

Cambria has insisted that Pigeon is innocent and facts that will surface at trial will exonerate Pigeon, a former Erie County Democratic chairman whose fundraising activities first caught Schneiderman’s attention back in 2014.

Cambria also says the state has failed to prove the existence of any quid pro quo activities as a result of the relationship between Pigeon and Michalek.

Most of the attorney general’s responses to Cambria’s demands say the demands are outside the scope of the law or that the prosecution will provide answers at a trial expected to begin next spring.

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The defense

In court papers, G. Steven Pigeon’s lawyer Paul Cambria challenges prosecutors:

• Claims search of Pigeon’s waterfront condo was illegal because of errors in search warrant.

• Questions Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s jurisdiction.

• Demands evidence from FBI’s monitoring former Justice John A. Michalek’s telephone.

• Demands information on any promises made to potential prosecution witnesses.

• Questions search of Pigeon’s cellphone.

• Seeks dismissal of indictment because of insufficient proof of quid pro quo.

• Seeks minutes from grand jury that indicted Pigeon and Michalek.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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